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With pressure to succeed, many Beach Cities teens turn to drugs, alcohol

Carley Dryden, Manhattan Beach News


How well do Beach Cities parents really know their teenagers?

In many cases, not well.

Hermosa Beach psychologist Greg Allen, who works as a therapist and substance abuse counselor for South Bay teens, hears about it every week: the car accidents, the drug overdoses, the arrests, the fights. Often, parents don't.

"It's really alarming and scary and upsetting," he said.

It's no secret that Beach Cities students are held to a higher standard than most and feel pressure to succeed. Many plan or are expected to attend Ivy League colleges.

"Kids used to get into drug use because of peer pressure, to fit in with friends. Now it's trying to cope with stress," he said. "Society doesn't have a lot of healthy ways to blow off stress, so they turn to substance abuse, fast driving ... They're excited to try something dangerous."

Many local parents turn a blind eye, pledging to instead "fight the big fights," or find it hard to accept that students from this area can get into that kind of trouble.

"Kids in higher socioeconomic areas actually get in more trouble," Allen said. "They have more income, more availability to different types of drugs and, because they're bright, they can fool their parents better."

Allen, local attorney George Bird, Manhattan Beach School Resource Officer John Loy and Sandi Conley from the Beach Cities Health District will talk to parents about these issues and ways to identify warning signs next Wednesday, March 28, at the "State of Our Teens" discussion in the Manhattan Beach Library.

The talk could be called Sex, Drugs and Rock 'n' Roll, Bird said, "without the rock 'n' roll."

"It's really alcohol, drugs and sex," he said.

Bird, a 30-year criminal attorney, handles a great deal of juvenile cases in the area and discovered a startling statistic a couple weeks ago.

"Last year in the South Bay we lost nine between the ages of 16 and 20," he said. "Nine. From alcohol, drugs or motor vehicle accidents."

Bird credits the availability of illegal substances, the speed of the cars local youngsters have access to and the feeling of invincibility, all paired with the stress to achieve and the economic realities the parents are facing.

"I hear all the time, 'Oh, but they're good kids,' and they come into my office with two or three grams of cocaine," he said. "My mission is to encourage the communication already going on between the parent and child."

Allen said a lot of parents in the Beach Cities are hands-on and many families function well, but students still outsmart their parents.

Allen and Bird plan to hold similar talks throughout the South Bay to connect with as many parents as possible.

"There is no more pressing concern that we have than the health and well-being of our children," Bird said. "When the child dies, the hole created in the hearts of family members will never be filled. Anything that I can do to prevent another death in the South Bay, I'm going to do."

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